THE VAMPIRE BATS
Once vampire bats came out of their caves by the millions to discharge their civic duty. It wouldn’t do to remain in their dark haunts when society’s call for the execution of justice rang out. They’d been at this for a long time, after all, predating thumbs-up-thumbs-down-day at the Coliseum, stonings in the village square, beheadings, and the burning of witches. With that history, they’d all but claimed the role of public conscience in matters of guilt and innocence. Innocence mostly, for it was a sense of communal innocence that inspired any self-respecting bat to exert itself in the name of the commonweal. During periods when communal innocence seemed in short supply and only a few public leaders could still be counted on to claim the voice of the highest authority in dismissing the pleas of the accused for mercy, vampire bats were in great demand to fill the gap and convince a troubled populace that the old standards for exacting punishment still held. In this capacity, they acted for all those who couldn’t make it down to the local courthouse or prison parking lot themselves to shout for vengeance upon some stranger they’d been told on some blog deserved it. More than anything else, the spectacle of screeching vampire bats served to assure the populace at large that justice by proxy was still possible, no matter how hard it might be at times to do the right thing in one’s own life. One’s own life might be just too complicated for a simple decision on good and evil, but the life of a publicly identified rotter was easy to pass judgment on. And if guilt could be pinpointed in this way, then innocence must be just as obvious. Already there by default in everybody not currently under sentence. So bearing witness to the punishment meted out on those declared guilty was bearing witness as well to one’s personal virtue. No wonder these gatherings at the courthouse or in the prison parking lot took on an air of ritual purification after which all could resume their everyday lives, purged of destructive emotions in a mass catharsis that renewed collective bonds. In place of Aristotle’s pity and fear, one need only substitute mass rage and a conviction of one’s own righteousness to experience the effect wanted. How fortunate, then, to have the shrill call of vampire bats to show one the way.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans